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The knocking sound had been coming and going in my engine, and I had a feeling that my Nissan Stanza was about to die. In the back of my mind was a tiny voice screaming that it was over sixty miles to the next town and I would never make it. My fiancee, Nichole, had always been on my case about how I never checked or changed the oil. Easy for her to remember; her dad was a mechanic and made her do that stuff on her own. My folks had always checked it for me. Nichole stopped checking in on my car for me soon after we got moved in together and said she wanted to teach me to have some responsibility. I guess I was going to be getting my first lesson. I looked at my cell phone; no service. It had been that way for half an hour. So much for my service providers promise of a nationwide network.
I made a deal with my car.
“If you get me to Gloucester, I promise I’ll check your oil every week and fill up your tank with the expensive stuff.”
The Stanza seemed to be in cahoots with Nichole, because the engine spluttered, and I found myself slowing down.
“Thanks a lot you piece of shit.”
I parked on the side of the road and looked around. I was pretty much surrounded by the woods, but I knew that I was close to the coast, and there was bound to be a house or two by the beach. Sure, it was well into autumn, but maybe a few summer residents would still be hanging around, or better yet, an all year dweller. I’m one of a handful of location scouts, hired to find the perfect place to shoot for all sorts of films. We often do the legal work as well, negotiating to get permission to film for certain lengths of time. The assignment for me had been to find a forest with lots of gnarled looking pine trees but plenty of natural light. This had quite naturally led me to New England, and my current predicament. I grabbed the backpack that I had packed for my trip out from the trunk and dumped all my dirty clothes into the backseat. I replaced them with a map of the area, my water bottle, and the four granola bars that were supposed to keep me from eating my own hand before I got to my motel.
As an afterthought, I changed from my ratty driving shoes to my good sneakers. If I had a hike in front of me I wanted to be comfortable. I was in pretty good shape before I went to college, and I had since let myself go a bit, but I was still fit enough for a jog every now and then. I wasn’t worried about how long I would have to walk, my chief concern was the reaming I would get from the studio if I were to be running late.
There had been a brackish smell in the air as soon as I stepped out of my car and I could hear the faint sound of gulls, so I knew the general direction to go if I wanted to reach the sea. With every step I thought I could hear Nichole’s voice echoing her favorite insult over and over:
“Jake, you effed up. Jake, you effed up. Jake, you effed up.” Not the most pleasant beat for walking.
The trees eventually gave way to hills and a few small beaches. To my relief there was also a scenic looking little ocean village. I didn’t remember it on the map. Houses speckled the area behind the beach, and I could see a school and some businesses near the waterfront. I felt that there was something weird about the place, and I quickly realized that it was the lack of human noise which disturbed me. I noted that there were no cars driving the road that led to the village, nor were there people hanging around outside or in their yards. Still, it was Saturday afternoon; maybe they were all just eating lunch. I decided to investigate and headed up the beach.
I noticed a small child on the beach right away; the only apparent sign of human life. His back was to me and he was slightly hunched over. His hair seemed to be growing out from a summer buzz cut and he couldn’t have been more than five years of age. Worried that he might be hurt, I ran over to him.
“Hey kiddo, are you all right?”
The child turned to me and smiled. Caught in his teeth were small red globs and slender white bones. A scale glittered from his lower lip. I looked down and saw that he was holding a half eaten fish. From the smell I suspected that it had been dead for at least a few hours. A couple of insects crawled over the flesh.
“Do you want some?” The boy lifted the fish toward me. An assortment of guts slid out and fell onto my sneaker. I jerked back reflexively, and the boy looked offended.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t eat raw fish, and neither should you.” I said firmly. Where the hell were his parents?
“He was a present left by the sea monsters.” The little boy said.
“The sea monsters left him behind. They found better food here. The white clouds come in and go away, but they always stay longer and longer to hunt.”
“It sounds like you’re making up a story so that you don’t get in trouble. Where are your mom and dad?” I was getting impatient.
The boy pointed to the waves that were crashing on the beach.
“They went in there.” He said.
“Okay…” I didn’t know how to respond. The kid was obviously having fun with me. “How about you show me where you live? I’d like to ask your parents if I can use their phone.”
“The phones don’t work anymore.” The boy said. Then he froze, his eyes wide. I turned and tried to figure out what he was staring at, but all I saw was a thick mist, rolling slowly in from the ocean.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
The boy had started to shake. He dropped his fish, and I barely caught what he said next.
Before I knew what was happening the boy had started running toward the village. I considered pursuing him, but he looked pretty freaked out. I didn’t think his parents would be very excited about their kid talking to a strange man on the beach anyway.
I continued on toward the houses. There were some fishing boats by the docks and I immediately noticed a man standing in one of them. His back was to me and he appeared to be leaning against the mast. I laughed, relieved that I would finally be able to ask to use someone’s phone, and made my way down the dock toward the fishing vessel.
I stopped short as soon as I came abreast of the boat. My eyes teared up and I started retching.
The man was not leaning against the mast but bound to it with heavy rope. His mouth hung open in a silent scream and his eyes were completely gone. I guessed that birds had been to work on him because there were strips of flesh missing from his face and neck. Over all of this was a faint buzzing sound as flies swarmed the body. One of his legs was missing completely, the other had been taken off unevenly below the knee. His arms were still attached, but they were also discolored and covered in wounds. It looked almost as though they had been chewed on and sawed at simultaneously.
There was another body lying face down in the boat. It was clad in a police officer’s uniform and seemed to be in equally unpleasant shape. I didn’t want to look at it, considering what the other man had looked like, but the officer’s hand was close to me, and I saw that it was swarming with maggots. I felt my stomach twist and lurch as it struggled again to keep my breakfast from escaping.
There was something very wrong in this village.
I turned away and ran as fast as I could back toward the houses. I picked one at random, no longer worried about disturbing the people inside. It was clear to me that there were probably no live people here, except for that one strange little boy. I would have to go look for him – but first I needed a phone. I had to call Nichole. Or the police. Both. I needed to call both.
The front door of the house was locked, and the windows all looked like they had wood nailed over the inside, but the back porch had a sliding glass door that wasn’t boarded up, although the curtains were drawn. It was easy to break into by lifting it off the track. I did nearly break my nose by walking through the curtains into what I thought was a wall. A tentative push told me that it was furniture, and I discovered a large walnut bureau had been moved in front of the doors.
The home was furnished in a country theme; lots of ceramic roosters and chickens, as well as buttercups embroidered on brown throw pillows. There were some photos of a couple, who I assumed were the owners. They were younger than I would have thought, given the décor. The man had a dark complexion and wore a plaid shirt in pretty much every photo, the woman had wavy brown hair and a big smile; she reminded me of Nichole. Normal looking people.
What had happened to them? What had happened to this town?
The phone in the kitchen was a cordless one. It had been left off the hook and the battery was dead. I didn’t see any others, so reluctantly I left my backpack behind and decided to venture upstairs. It seemed more of a violation than the downstairs break in, and I found myself tip toeing.
There were more photos upstairs, the same couple, sometimes with other people. No children though. They must not have wanted any, or maybe they couldn’t have any.
There were four doors upstairs. Three open, one closed. I noticed a sickly sweet smell right away, and something a little more foul or rotten underneath. I wondered if there had been food left out up here. I decided not to look for the source of the odor.
The first door led into a bathroom, the second seemed to be a craft room of some kind, but the third open door was a bedroom, done up nicely with soft blue walls and a plaid comforter. There was a journal lying open on the bed, and more importantly a phone was sitting on the night stand. I picked it up, but the line was silent, no dial tone at all. The kid on the beach hadn’t just been jerking me around. Not only was I in a ghost town, but it was one without phones or electricity.
I looked over at the journal on the bed. Had it been left open like that on purpose? What a strange thing to do. I felt a bead of perspiration slip down my forehead, even though it was chilly in the house.
Wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans, I reached for the journal.
It’s only been a day. Hard to believe. I’m keeping this record for anyone who comes along after we’re… Well, just in case.
I don’t know where to begin. I guess with the fog. It rolled in and the power immediately went out. Our cars wouldn’t start, the phone lines were down. Then people began dying. We didn’t see it happen, just heard the screaming, but a bunch of us ran to the school to hide. We were there for hours.
They tied Nelson to the mast of his boat to try to lure us out. We could hear him screaming off and on all afternoon as he baked in the sun. It was pretty warm out, he must have been dying of thirst. In the end the screams turned sobs and pleading that plain out tore at my soul. The crying was mostly incoherent, but we clearly heard him go:
“Please, they took my feet! Jesus they’re chewing on my legs!”
I couldn’t bear to listen anymore and I covered my ears for a bit.
Finally Officer Dean and a few of the lobstermen decided to go out and try to rescue him. I’ll forever bear it on my conscience that I didn’t try to go with them. We heard their screams too, but they didn’t last as long.
Nelson stopped wailing the next day. Something finally killed him; I guess I’ll never know what.
I made a break for it during the rescue mission, my house was only two streets down from the school and I had to see if Marcy had made it home. She cried when she saw me come in through the door.
Marcy took inventory of what we have left for canned food. Enough to get us through a month if we’re careful. I hope our neighbors are stocked up too. I haven’t seen them since the mist came in. Hope Louis and Pam are good.
Baked beans for dinner tonight.
I’m hiding my worries from Marcy, I don’t want to scare her. The phones are still down, can’t call anyone. Still can’t start the cars either. Louis tried to leave with his family on foot, but they were killed too. I didn’t see it, you can’t see anything, but I heard Pam screaming his name. I heard the kids too, but I try not to think about that. I’m glad now that Marcy and I didn’t have any kids.
The only way to stay alive is to board up your house and pray they don’t find you.
Actually, I’m not sure the praying does any good. God seems to have abandoned us.
Someone was walking around hollering that their car had stalled. I think anyone who comes here is affected by the same strange phenomenon.
They were right outside our house. I almost opened the door because I wanted to help him, but I peeked out through the boards of the window first. Then I saw it. One of the creatures. It passed right by the window. I pissed myself I was so scared.
It got the guy. I saw the whole thing.
Don’t want to describe it… don’t want to write about it. Can’t think now. I might be crazy.
Whatever they are, we know they came from the deep under cover of the fog. We can’t see them, but we hear their squelching noises through the mist and it shows no sign of lifting.
At first the creatures wandered around for only an hour or two at a time, but it was still hard to predict their movements. Better to stay indoors. Now they come out for longer periods of time. It’s like they’re testing themselves.
Marcy hasn’t talked much since Louis and Pam were taken. I try to get her to eat but her appetite is down along with her spirit.
I’m sure we’ll all be dead soon. For all I know me and Marcy are the only ones left. I’ve been thinking the best way to go would be to end it myself. I don’t have a gun, but Marcy and me could take some pills. Go together, nice and peaceful. I won’t think about that now. It’s a last resort.
If you’re reading this then we’re all dead. I hope that what came to our town isn’t able to spread any further. But I don’t know what those water demons are capable of. They’re slithering around in the streets constantly now.
Get out if you can. It’s too late for us.
There were no other entries after that, and now I knew that it had been roughly two weeks since whatever had happened in the village. I swallowed hard and remembered the bad smell and the door at the end of the hallway; the only one that was closed. I suddenly didn’t want to be in the house anymore. I couldn’t quite believe everything that the guy who kept the journal had written, and I deeply wanted to pass him off as an eccentric, or a guy who had gone crazy after seeing people murdered, but the little boy on the beach had been talking about things in the water too. I shuddered.
I went back downstairs grabbed my backpack and went back out through the curtains and the sliding door. My skin prickled when I saw that the world had gone white with thick swirling mist. I couldn’t see more than a foot or two in front of me.
How had it come in so quickly? I figured that I had been in the house for a quarter of an hour at most. Did fog always move like that?
Suddenly I heard a sound. It reminded me of the time I had gone out to play by the brook in my new boots. The ground was soft and glutted with rain, and I had gotten stuck in the mud up to my knee. The earth made a wet sucking sound as I pulled my foot out, and my left boot had been lost forever in the muck.
There were dark shapes moving in the mist, one of them quite close. It was huge. I backed up slowly toward the house, but I realized that it would just be a death trap if I barricaded myself in there. I had to try to make it out of the mist. One of the figures paused, I could almost feel it looking at me. It made a low gurgling sound.
Then, impossibly fast, it was coming for me. I saw that although the creature had two manlike arms it certainly didn’t have legs. It was long, dark, and serpent-like, with slitted yellow eyes and shiny wet skin. Its mouth opened and it emitted a high pitched shriek; revealing a mouth full of teeth with ragged edges that reminded me of bread knives. I remembered the corpse on the boat, his ragged bottom half.
I turned and booked it back toward the hills. I didn’t scream, I couldn’t scream. I just ran.
The mist got thinner as I gained higher ground and I still didn’t stop. I wasn’t aiming for my car, that was a lost cause. Instead I ran down the main road, knowing that I would sprint the full sixty some odd miles if I had to. Adrenaline does that to you. I even lost my backpack and I couldn’t remember ever dropping it.
At some point I realized that I had left the fog and the town far behind me. I hoped that the creatures wouldn’t be able to survive far from the sea, and even entertained the thought that they hadn’t been able to chase me because of their dependance on their watery habitat, but I wasn’t certain of anything anymore. A world where those things existed was a world that no longer made any sense. My legs wobbled dangerously, and I slowed down, but I continued to walk, eager to put as much distance as possible between myself and the village. My breathing was ragged, I hadn’t had this much exercise in a long time and my lungs felt like limp balloons that didn’t want to inflate.
I stopped for a rest, and checked my phone. Still no signal, and the battery was at four percent. I thought of the boy on the beach again and the guilt which assaulted me almost made me turn back. Almost. I know Nichole would have, she was always the brave one, always thinking of others and telling me that I need to get my shit together. Well, I would keep walking until I got to the next town, I would contact the police and they could save the boy from the beach. Wasn’t that what we paid the police for? To be the heroes that we didn’t want to be?
Maybe the boy was already dead.
I only meant to stop for a few moments to catch my breath, but I drifted off. I have no idea how long I was out.
A familiar squelching sound jerked me awake, and I realized with horror that I was surrounded once again by white fog. My chest tightened, because six of the creatures were crowded around me, studying me with cold eyes. The biggest one tilted its head and emitted a low hiss.
I had been followed after all.
I closed my eyes again and thought of Nichole. Her voice echoed in my head as I felt the slimy fingers around my throat. Even as the serrated teeth began tearing at my gut and screams burst from me along with my insides I thought I could hear her speaking to me; that old, painfully familiar slight:
“Jake, you effed up.”
Credit: C.F Campbell